How I Got Into Publishing – Interview with Lena Petzke, Rights

I am so excited to welcome Lena to the ‘ How I Got Into Publishing ‘ series! Lena was shortlisted as a London Book Fair Trailblazer in 2018 and that is when we first met. Her international experience is what made her story so memorable for me. As an immigrant, being able to see a fellow immigrant succeed in the publishing industry is really special. Lena works in the rights department of Nosy Crow and is fluent in three languages. I think any attempt to introduce her won’t do her justice as she is so impressive. What I would say though is that Lena’s story shows how vast our industry is and how opportunities sometimes come about when you least expect them. You just have to be ready to grab them and, in this case, be willing to move to the other side of the world to make your dream come true!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is Lena, I work in the rights department at independent UK children’s publisher Nosy Crow. I have a German passport but have lived the past six years in Beijing. My passion – you might have guessed it – is definitely books! And languages, I suppose. I am very much driven by my curiosity and being trilingual, if one wants to call it that, has allowed me to peek into many different ways of publishing books which made me appreciate the world of books even more. International publishing is a great wondrous place for me where I never stop learning – so many different countries, languages and books. I’m thinking about learning a fourth language at the moment, suggestions are very welcome. 

2. What is the part of your job that you enjoy the most? 

I love the fact that Nosy Crow’s great authors are read all over the world and that I can help initiate that. Our Asia team and I have just returned from the Children’s Book Fair in Shanghai and it has been brilliant, as always. Seeing our rights customers in person and meeting new publishers is rewarding and challenging at the same time – in a very good way. When you suggest a title during the meeting that is perfect for their list and goes on to sell well for them – this is the greatest joy for our authors, illustrators, publishing partners and me of course. 

3. When did you know you wanted to work in publishing? 

It hasn’t always been books, I have to admit. First, I wanted to go into journalism, so it always had to do with my fascination with text and stories, but then I realized that news wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to write myself, I wanted to work with and shape other people’s books, so I took the amazing opportunity to learn from the greatest publishing person I had met in Beijing – the founder of Penguin Random House North Asia, Jo Lusby. A publishing and Asia expert, I knew this was the chance to learn what book publishing was all about. And it became obvious then and there that it was book publishing that makes me get up in the morning. 

4. How did you land your first publishing job? 

My first full time job in publishing, i.e. in editorial at PRH North Asia in Beijing, came about after an internship there during my semester break at Beijing Renmin University. I was lucky because the department had personnel changes shortly after my internship and they needed an editorial assistant a few months later. So they offered me the job. By that time I had graduated and was back home in Germany, on my mother’s couch, sending tons of application to everybody and generally doubting myself and my choices. I signed the contract they offered me then and there and was on a plane back to China in no time. I had so many doubts, let alone my family and friends, but I’ve never regretted moving countries for a job. I can say the same about my current job which took me from Beijing to London. 

5. What is one thing you wish you had known when you were applying for jobs? 

That there are so many ways of writing a successful cover letter. Do take advice from friends outside the publishing industry, as they sometimes bring a refreshing sharpness to a cover letter I would have never dared to use. Be to the point, short and intriguing in your writing! (I know, it’s so hard to get it right, I am with you.) 

6. What advice would you give to someone looking for their first publishing job right now? 

If you have the luxury of time and financial support to intern, do consider more departments than for example editorial and try them out! You never know if you are an ingenious production executive if you haven’t tried checking proofs for the right cover treatment yourself. Book publishing is this large machine that needs a whole lot of different great people to run smoothly.

Thank you so much for your story, Lena!

You can connect with Lena here.

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